Why You Want to Use Acupuncture for Workout Recovery

Why You Want to Use Acupuncture for Workout Recovery

The term 'acupuncture' means to literally puncture with a needle. It is a common practice in traditional Chinese medicine that originated over two thousand years ago. Today, acupuncture is used for workout recovery and is practiced as an adjunct to traditional western medicine. It involves the insertion of hair-thin needles at exact points which target specific conditions. 

What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a time-tested practice used to treat myriad physical and mental conditions. An acupuncture session entails a skilled, trained, licensed acupuncturist penetrating the skin using hair-thin, solid, metallic needles. Once in place, these needles are activated through specific, gentle manipulations done with the practitioner's hands or through electrical stimulation. 

Acupuncturists who follow traditional Chinese medicine believe there are more than 2,000 points throughout the human body that connect via pathways called meridians. These meridians create a flow of energy called qi (pronounced "chee") that moves through the body and is responsible for the individual's overall health. Any disruption of this qi energy flow can trigger diseases. Applying acupuncture to certain of these points improves the flow of the qi and thus improves overall health. This is the basic premise of how acupuncture works, according to its historical teachings. 

Studies have shown acupuncture to be an effective intervention for a variety of conditions. But it isn't for everyone. If you think you can benefit from the services of an acupuncturist, discuss your plans with your primary medical provider before making your final decision.

Benefits: Esoteric and Scientific

Acupuncture is predicated on the belief that stimulating the body's meridians at specific points can bring the body into balance and harmony. If you prefer a less esoteric approach, there are scientifically-based benefits to be had through acupuncture:

  • Acupuncture triggers the body to release endorphins and enkephalins, which are pain-moderating chemicals.
  • Improves blood flow in surrounding tissue, which increases nutrients, oxygen, hormones, and chemicals that promote healing in the affected area.
  • Stimulates the natural release of anti-inflammatory compounds to promote healing and decrease pain levels.
  • Needle insertion causes micro-trauma, which promotes healing through stimulation of the body's immune system.

One use for acupuncture that's growing in popularity is for post-workout recovery.

Acupuncture for Post-Workout Recovery

A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Jan. 2013) suggested acupuncture applied between scheduled exercise sessions may enhance performance and increase energy. Likewise, post-workout recovery time from muscle stiffness, soreness, and joint pain may improve. 

Specific benefits of post-workout acupuncture may include:

  • Decreased joint and muscle pain
  • Improved blood flow
  • Prevention of injury
  • Improved endurance and energy
  • Shorter recovery times
  • Deeper, more restful sleep

Other Perks of Regular Acupuncture Sessions

Acupuncture can be a useful adjunct to treating various injuries, both those caused by traumatic events and some common overuse injuries that tend to plague athletes.

Traumatic Injuries Treatable with Acupuncture

  • Strains and sprains of the ankle
  • Strains and tears of the rotator cuff
  • Sprains and strains of the wrist

Overuse Injuries Treatable with Acupuncture

  • Shoulder pain and stiffness from arthritis, bursitis, tendonitis, and impingement syndrome
  • Elbow bursitis, golfer's elbow, and tennis elbow
  • Tendonitis in the wrist
  • Achilles tendonitis
  • Bursitis in the hip joints
  • Knee arthritis
  • Iliotibial band syndrome

Risks Associated with Acupuncture

As with any treatment, whether it's traditional, alternative, or something in between, there is always some degree of risk involved. Acupuncture is no different. The risks associated with acupuncture tend toward the mild side but can become more severe in some cases. 

Side effects most commonly reported to result from acupuncture treatments include:

  • Pain and bleeding from the site of needle insertion
  • Skin rashes
  • Allergic reactions
  • Bruising
  • Pain at the site of needle application
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Infection at insertion sites

To reduce the risk of possible side effects from an acupuncture treatment, make certain the acupuncturist administering your treatment is a licensed and properly trained practitioner who uses sterile techniques and disposable needles.

A report published in Scientific Reports (June 13, 2017) noted that serious complications from acupuncture were rare but could occur. Potential serious complications include:

  • Injury to nerve and blood vessels
  • Complications from broken needles or remnants of needle pieces left under the skin
  • Puncture wounds to organs
  • Injury to the central nervous system or spinal cord
  • Hemorrhage, especially in patients taking blood thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin)

Though Skepticism Remains . . .

There remains skepticism in various circles regarding the existence of meridian energy connections within the human body and whether or not acupuncture actually works in concert with these energy pathways to keep the body in balance. Putting that aspect aside, research suggests acupuncture can be used as an effective, safe method of treating a wide range of symptoms and conditions, including injuries, acute and chronic pain, and orthopedic conditions. 

Here's a quick rundown of frequently sighted reasons people in general, and athletes in particular, are making use of acupuncture to improve their health and boost their recovery capabilities.


Acupuncture needles stimulate acupuncture points along the central nervous system that trigger the body to release natural painkillers, such as endorphins. Because the treatment can be targeted directly at the source, the needles can help decrease inflammation, reduce swelling, and lower heat by drawing adenosine, a natural tissue repair stimulant, to the site of the pain.


More deep and restful sleep allows for greater muscle relaxation and regeneration and boosts energy levels. Acupuncture helps regulate cortisol and serotonin, natural regulators of quality sleep. 

Lowers Stress and Anxiety

Acupuncture can stimulate the release of endorphins and balance cortisol levels in the body. This helps ease stress and decreases anxiety.

Improved Recovery Times

Regular acupuncture treatments between workout sessions can help optimize the body's natural healing capabilities. It can increase blood flow to an injured site, relax tight muscles, and reduce muscle soreness and fatigue. These effects can help speed up recovery times after extensive workouts.

Should You Use Acupuncture for Workout Recovery?

Acupuncture can be a welcome change that helps take your active lifestyle to the next level. It can help increase your awareness of the state of your body without worry about addictive or non-natural substances. If you think acupuncture may be right for you, do your research, talk to your doctor, and get moving on your own road to improved health.

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